Under pressure from farmers and food standards campaigners, UK international trade secretary Liz Truss has bolstered the Trade and Agriculture Commission created to give farmers an 'advisory' role on deals with food-exporting countries.
The Commission, which includes representatives from the UK farming unions, originally had a six-month lifespan, but Ms Truss has extended that to three years, and charged the body with producing a report on the impact on animal welfare and agriculture of each free trade deal the UK government signs after the end of the Brexit transition period on January 1.
But some campaigners would still prefer to see high food standards enshrined in actual law, and dismissed Ms Truss' move as a deliberate effort to 'torpedo' a House of Lords’ amendment to the Agriculture Bill which would have achieved that. Anything short of primary legislation to protect British food and farming was, they said, just a 'baby step' designed to placate opposition to the Conservatives' free-trade plan.
Announcing her move, Ms Truss said: "As trade secretary, I want deals that deliver for British farmers and help them sell more brilliant produce around the world. I will never sign up to anything that threatens their ability to compete, or that undermines their high standards.
"Our trade policy is deeply rooted in British values – democracy, the rule of law, human rights and a fierce commitment to high food and farming standards. Any deal that does not abide by those values or deliver for vital industries like agriculture will remain firmly on the shelf.
"The Trade and Agriculture Commission is an important part of our vision for a values-led and value-generating trade policy," said Ms Truss. "It is about putting British farming at the heart of our trade agenda, and ensuring the interests of farmers and consumers are promoted and advanced as we move closer to becoming an independent trading nation on January 1."
NFU President, Minette Batters commented: "The decision to extend the Trade and Agriculture Commission and put it on a statutory footing in order that it can report on any new trade deals for scrutiny in parliament will be hugely welcomed by Britain’s farmers.
"This demonstrates the government’s commitment to not only safeguarding our standards of production in future trade deals but demonstrates an ambition to be global leaders in animal welfare and environmental protection. We look forward to working with the Department for International Trade and Defra in our shared ambition to export high quality British food around the world."
Source: The Scottish Farmer